Shortly after starting the THNK Executive Leadership Program, Regine decided to explore and apply the THNK tools to the issue of waste management in her hometown of Cap Haitien. Increasingly intrigued by her relationship with trash, Regine set forth on a mission to come up with a solution. Regine’s classmates introduced her to waste transformation companies around the world. “And so I met up with them, and they all had the same issues, which is zero-value waste or negative-value waste,” she explains. “And that is unseparated or mixed waste that primarily ends up in a landfill, on the streets, in the ocean. It’s the problematic trash, which is most trash.”
A first-generation Haitian-American, this topic hit home with Regine, as the country’s notorious Truitier landfill has dump trucks going in and out 24 hours a day, leaving 100,000 tons of waste each month across 200 acres. In a modern landfill, tightly packed mounds of waste are sealed under a rubber and clay barrier, and over a liner that keeps liquids from seeping out. Landfills are not designed to break down waste, only to store it. Garbage in a landfill does decompose, albeit slowly and in a sealed, oxygen-free environment. Because of the lack of oxygen, bacteria in the waste produce methane gas, which is highly flammable and dangerous if allowed to collect underground. It is also a potent greenhouse gas and contributes to global warming.
Determined to do something about this, Regine continued to talk to experts and other organizations in the field. Inundated with all of the technical and logistical details, she realized the most effective solution would have to involve a systems-wide behavior change: “Everybody connects with trash in some way or another. If we could change our perception and our behavior and our relationship to trash, then you could give trash value. That was our lightbulb moment: thinking about the fact that if we change our behavior and the way we think about it and if we play with value within the system between waste transformers and waste providers – which is anyone who has trash and anyone that transforms trash – then you can start to give trash a value.”